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Poplar Tent Presbyterian, aided by the Cannon family, renovating historic cemetery

Written By Fred Corlett
Tribune Staff Writer
January 18, 1987

The Poplar Tent Presbyterian Church Memorial Cemetery is engaged in a project of straightening, repairing, replacing and preserving historic grave sites.

The project was made possible by a grant by the Cannon Foundation, supplemented by contributions from various members of the Cannon family, including some who live outside of North Carolina.

John Bean and his crew have already put many weeks into the work of restoring the old graves, even setting some of the less stable ones in concrete.  According to Bean, the cemetery could be dangerous for visitors and children if the gravestones, some of which are cracked or leaning, were not restored.

More significantly, said Bean, the history represented in the cemetery should be preserved for future generations.  This is especially true for the families of the men and women of previous centuries who are buried there.

The oldest known grave in the cemetery belongs to Martha Andrews, who was buried in March 1743.  There are 16 other known graves from the 1700s.

Poplar Tent Presbyterian Church was established about 1751 by early Scotch-Irish immigrants from Pennsylvania and Maryland.

The Rev. John Thompson, sent by the Presbytery of Philadelphia to preach to scattered Presbyterians in the colony of North Carolina, conducted services under a large poplar tree near the present house of worship, hence the name Poplar Tent.

The Rev. Hezekiah James Balch, whose remains rest in the Poplar Tent Cemetery, was the first regular pastor and co-author of the "Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence."

The first church was made of logs, the second one a frame building.  It was during the pastorate of the Rev. Walter Pharr in 1852 that the present brick church was built.  When he resigned in 1857, he left the congregation with 163 white members and 104 black members.  The black members withdrew in 1867.

The first women's organization in the Presbyterian Church - U.S. was at Poplar Tent in 1817.  It was called "The Female Tract Society of Poplar Tent Church," organized for the purpose of distributing tracts and other church literature.

It was afterwards reorganized as "the Female Benevolent Society."

They met annually on the Saturday before communion in May, and they contributed to both home and foreign missions.  In August 1912 at Montreat, the Executive Secretaries of the Church met and unanimously chose the name "The Women's Auxiliary of the Presbyterian Church U.S."  It is presently called "The Women of the Church."

The present Poplar Tent sanctuary was built in 1852 and the enrollment is currently about 220.  The pastor is the Rev. Joel D. Cherry.

Basil Untz, chairman of the cemetery committee, said that they are currently working to build an endowment to fund ongoing preservation.

Cemetery Committee
Cemetery restoration

The Poplar Tent Cemetery Committee, above, watches workmen preserving historical grave sites.  From left to right:  Herman Stewart, Margaret Ann Dover, Lewis Allison, Basil Untz (chairman), the Rev. Joel D. Cherry, and restoration supervisor John Bean (not a committee member).  At right, an historic marble grave stone for Capt. John Phifer Young, who was killed at Chancellorsville, May 3, 1868, in Poplar Tent Presbyterian Memorial Cemetery.
 Capt. John Phifer Young gravestone